“You think we can get up there?” I ask Joshua Burns, Product Communications Analyst at Toyota Motor North America. “I’m not sure, nobody did it yet, but why don’t you try it?” he replies as he looks up the steep sandy hill where moments earlier a Ford Raptor clawed its way up, with the powerful V6 Ecoboost growling and all off-road systems engaged.
I shift the transfer case to 4-low, lock the rear differential and turn the dial of the Multi-Terrain Select system to Rock & Dirt - there are also settings for Loose Rock, Mogul and Rock – before I point the nose up the steep incline and gently brush the throttle. Steering clear of a few sharp rocks, the Tacoma finds enough grip on the loose surface and with minimal wheel spin below me I stare through the windscreen at the clear blue Texan sky until the tree tops reemerge at the bottom of the windscreen as the Tacoma reaches the top.
I’m actually surprised by how easy it went and I look down the hill where Joshua looks up with a big wide grin on his face after he snapped a last picture, “No struggle at all. These big off-road trucks have nothing on the TRD Pro,” he smiles as he steps back into the cabin. I could have made things even easier – but less engaging – by switching on Crawl Control, letting the vehicle control everything, while the driver only has to steer and choose one of five speed settings with a rotary knob in the overhead console.
On one of the bumpy and dusty trails at the Longhorn River Ranch near Austin, I take the opportunity to push the Tacoma to some impressive speeds in 4-High with the rear differential unlocked. There is a nice balance when throwing it around from one corner to the next, yet this balance can be tilted by stepping on the accelerator at the right moment, pushing the rear out and making it fish-tail like a small-scale desert racer. At high speeds the Fox shocks with one inch of additional ground clearance show a completely different side, making for a very entertaining yet rather wild ride.
With all the hardware and software of the TRD Pro working in perfect harmony, this Tacoma can stand its ground amongst bigger, more powerful and much more expensive competitors. As the most capable off-road Tacoma, the TRD Pro returned at the top of the line-up earlier this year after a one year absence. The 2018 Tacoma brings an extensive arsenal of safety features, assembled in what is called Toyota Safety Sense-P. It contains forward-collision warning, pedestrian detection, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and automatic high-beams.
Toyota only offers the TRD Pro with the familiar 3.5-liter V-6 delivering 278 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque, in Double Cab/short-bed configuration starting at $41,216. You can choose the way you shift gears though, with either a standard six-speed automatic or an optional six-speed manual. Our test car had the latter, and both on and off-road there was no reason to complain. Ford might have the edge at this moment with their new 10-speed auto and the 3.5 V6 Ecoboost, but off the beaten path a regular F-150 4x4 is no match for the Tacoma TRD Pro.
So, are there any downsides to the Tacoma TRD Pro? That all depends how you look at it. Compared to its competitors it really started to show its age and this also seeps through in the driving experience, especially on paved roads. As a true off-roader for adventurers who have practicality at the top of their list though, it is much more like a Jeep Wrangler, or even a Raptor if you will. Yes, it does have some flaws and quirks, but you are happy to live with those in return for its impressive terrain capabilities, rugged looks and unique personality.
© Words Natan Tazelaar
© Images Kevin McCauley | Joshua Burns | Toyota | Natan Tazelaar